Social Enterprise

Another firing over Facebook comments: Lawsuit pending

A new legal case tests the reach of social media policies, as the National Labor Relations Board contests a firing over Facebook comments.

As long as people continue to think of Facebook as their personal diary (a personal diary viewable by everyone from your sixth grade best friend to your dentist), there are going to be problems. And, consequently, there are going to be lawsuits, because that's just how people roll these days.

Take the case of Dawnmarie Souza, an employee of American Medical Response of Connecticut. After a dispute with her supervisor, Souza, on her own time and not at work, posted disparaging remarks about him on her Facebook page. Some of her coworkers then posted comments supporting Ms. Souza's criticism of the supervisor. American Medical then fired Ms. Souza because she violated company policy against depicting the company in any way on social media websites without permission.

Since American Medical had a written policy, the case seemed pretty straightforward. That is, until the Hartford regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) stepped in, claiming Souza was wrongfully dismissed because the Facebook activity can be considered a "concerted action." (Concerted actions are federally protected as part of the right to organize labor in order to discuss unionization of a company.) Kind of like a high-tech Norma Rae.

(OK, now I have a mental image of Souza standing on a table in a hot, crowded plan holding up her iPad with the word "Strike" on it. I guess you'll have to see the movie to get that one.)

The NLRB's position will also most likely be tested against case law that has interpreted what employees can be fired for when they're not on the job. It will be an interesting, precedent-testing case.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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